Dr. Kilduff or: How The Powerpuff Girls Taught Me to Love a Pun

Dr. K was my high school literature teacher for two years and he always had this thing about not using anything outside of the text in order to analyze it. Thus, a Plath poem entitled “Daddy” could not, ostensibly, have anything to do with her father. Or, rather, if it did, we couldn’t talk about it.

I never liked that and I finally figured out why: upon rewatching the PPGs, I realized that the majority of my sense of humor came from that show.

Puns? Got it.

The novel I’m trying to get published STAR CROSSED OR: THE CONFOUNDING CALAMITIES OF BYRON THE CAD AND MARIETTA THE ZOMBIE is filled to the brim with puns. They say that puns are the highest form of comedy. Even Shakespeare (eyebrow waggle) used them. SHAKESPEARE. And this dude.

One of the chapters has a subtitle about a Flouring Assassin. It’s about a little girl…who’s becoming an assassin…and SHE’S COVERED IN FLOUR. Or another chapter that tells the future with tea leaves. I call it a Pourtent of Tea. Ha! Even gardening puns make it:

“I can’t even tell if that’s a lie or the truth, it’s so disturbing.”

“My honor!” he snapped back.

“Is so neglected that it’s beginning to wilt from a lack of attention. Nothing I say or do is going to make a damn difference. Does it look like I have a watering can?”

“Hidden beneath the folds of your skirt I’ve no doubt you have at least twenty different ways of killing people and I assume that in assassination school they did teach you how to kill someone with a watering can if given the opportunity.”

“Yeah, the class was called Tenderizing the Garden–”

Absurdity? Yep.

There are zombie fleas that eat the insides of your hair follicles until they eventually burrow into your brain. People electrocute zombies back into life a la Victor von Frankenstein (a distant cousin linking the Shelley character and the Marvel villain*) and they go insane remembering the people they ate when they were undead. And even a slang spoken by street-dwelling triplet junior assassins:

“Swiss worm cheese, they told me you was. Dancing with the squirmies and drinking with the lord of the unforgettable yawn. To see you here, though, flesh peddling and boot stomping for wagon bits makes a Spittle use his hard-boiled noggin.”

They’re well educated street urchins.

A slightly unreliable narrator who bursts in inappropriately? Check.

The story is told in two parts. The first from Marietta’s perspective. The second from Byron. TRUST NEITHER. In fact, I don’t even think you can trust me. The narration shifts slightly from a close third on her and a close third on him, but affects the personalities of them while simultaneously telling about their lives.

Even now I have difficulty keeping it straight, and the point of view is something with which I struggle. That just means a little more editing to get it tight.

Catchy theme song? Uh, no. But I’m working on it.

But what this means is that in some parallel universe where my works are analyzed and critiqued, no one may ever dream of relating it to PPGs if they have a teacher like Dr. Kilduff. And that is just a travesty. It is the things that shape and mould us into the writers we are. And while it’s not imperative that one know everything about a particular author’s biography in order to analyze any works by said author, it often sheds light in the most mysterious of ways.

*Victor von Doom and Byron share a thing! They both believe they are horribly disfigured, due to only a small scar on their faces. Source. I mean, c’mon, guy. IT’S NOT THAT BAD.

From the Powerpuff Girls episode “Schoolhouse Rocked.” I’ll just leave this here:

Ms. Keane: Well, girls, I think Mr. Wednesday taught us a valuable lesson here today.

Bubbles: Education is the progressive realization of our ignorance?

Ms. Keane: No. Don’t turn your back in the middle of a dodgeball game!

Narrator: Oh, Ms. Keane! Under your rule, school is cool!

Reading Aloud

After finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman a few weeks ago, I read the acknowledgements wherein he says that Amanda, his wife (AND MY PERSONAL HERO), was really the first reader/critic/editor because he read the chapters out loud to her before they went to bed. This, in turn, helped shape the novel, turning it into the heartbreaking and melancholic work of brilliance that it is.

I talked to my fiance (soon to be husband) Adam and told him that same story and asked if he wanted me to do the same thing for him. Since I’m always in need of people to bounce ideas off of and want to hear feedback, I thought it an exceptional opportunity to get almost immediate criticism which would, hopefully, allow my works to become breath-taking tales of nostalgia and childhood trauma, until I realized that I’m, at my core, a horror writer. I may dress it up in sci-fi, in fantasy, in speculation, but everything is always a little dark, a little horrific and a little disturbing. My dialogue goes on for pages. My descriptions can sometimes — without someone to help me reign them in — get a little Nathaniel Hawthorne-y. I use really big words that I’m not even sure how to pronounce.

I read horror novels — here’s lookin’ at chu, The Terror — IN ORDER TO GO TO SLEEP. Not everyone does, I realize.

Adam, wisely, declined.

Plus, have you heard that guy read? Sugar. No wonder people want to hear his novels before bedtime.

Hella

All the best characters are duos. Think about it. Batman and Robin. Abbot and Costello. Ned Stark and an executioner (spoiler alert!).

So, I’d like for you to meet my other half. (Sorry, Adam, it’s not you.)

She's...seen things. Things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. She watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.

My precious

Her name is Hella, after the naked vampire maid lady from The Master and Margarita and she’s a 1962 Smith-Corona Corsair. She’s a bit unbalanced so that every time I type for long periods of time on her, she begins to shimmy backwards and to the left, but I just like the fact that I motivate myself by eating an M&M every time she DINGs.

Shearwater

I got into Shearwater by listening to other folk/indie rock bands like Other Lives, The Boxer Rebellion, and Okkervill River. Incidentally enough, some of Shearwater’s members originally met from Okkervill River, which, incidentally enough, gets its name from the eponymous short story by Tatyana Tolstaya.

(Which means that everything can be related to Russian Literature! Tatyana Tolstaya is the grandaughter of the famous Tolstoi — not the War and Peace one, but rather, the Aelita one — and her novel The Slynx is on my very long and extensive to-read list. She’s considered a great contemporary Russian novelist, alongside Viktor Pelevin (The Sacred Book of the Werewolf), Boris Akunin (the Erast Fandorin series), Sergei Lukanyenko (author of the Night Watch novels that got turned into the rather fantastic movies directed by Timur Bekmambetov and starring the heart-throbby and talented Konstantin Khabensky) and I’ll personally add Svetlana Martynchik, who writes under the pseudonym Max Frei (The Labyrinth of Echo series), to that list as well. Basically this is a long side-note to tell you to read more Russian lit. Not all of it is depressing stuff from the 19th and 20th centuries!)

“Insolence,” is my favorite off of their album Animal Joy released 2012 by Sub Pop.

I like the sweetness of the main singer’s voice and the clarity in his tone. The simplicity of the acoustic guitars and piano often belie the creeping complexity that forceful percussion and quiet strings lend to the latter parts of the songs. Most start out subtle and become progressively more and more layered. It’s a beautiful album, but still a little weak in terms of memorability. I look forward to listening to more from them. Their second should be coming out this fall.

Also, they say the word chrysalis in my favorite song listed above. I have a short story *cough cough* published by Devilfish Review named the same thing. Huh.

Apparatus Publishing

Apparatus Publishing is a little ol’ startup established by my good friend and fellow author, Blue-Haired Stevie. (I worked with another Stevie, the infamous Stevie’s Mom Stevie, and the Blue-Haired epithet is to differentiate the two.)

Their goal is to create an app for e-readers and the like that completely changes the way people read stories. Instead of the boring turn an electronic page because we’re humans and we would feel obsolete and somehow backstabby to our caveman ancestors who turned pages for millions of years, the stories organically scroll upwards continuously, displaying content and pictures — yes, pictures — slowly as one progresses through the story.

Back last year they needed a guinea pig story to work their Apparatus-y magic on, and voila! a little ol’ story of mine called The Retriever was entered and won their competition so as to be the flagshipstory.

What they do is add pictures — drawn by their lovely staff — add sounds and music — composed by their also lovely staff — so that the reading experience engages more than one sense.

They tell me that soon, (SOON), they’ll be up and running and publishing stories and changing the e-reading experience and stuff. I’m so *sniff* proud.

To NaNo or Not to NaNo?

…that is the hypothetical question posed to you all. Hey, at least I think of you as more than a skull, m’kay?

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years now and I’ve never once NOT finished. 2010 was a sci-fi novel, 2011 a short story extravaganza, and 2012 a fantasy novel.

2013 might be…a nothing novel.

Listen, kids, I’m getting married on Halloween and then I’m going to be in Cabo (as in Mexico) for a good chunk of that November on my honeymoon. I can’t just, you know, IGNORE MY HUSBAND, and be all, “one sec, hon, I’m writing when we should be honeymooning. Pool time? How’s about plot time? Sitting on the beach? Only if it’s raining, and I’m imagining a car crash.”

Can I?

In years past, I have slacked off for various reasons — Thanksgiving, my birthday is on the 18th — and have gotten it done. What’s one more? I oftentimes leave it until the last two weeks anyway and write in 10,000 words a day spurts until I sprint toward the finish line.

But on the other hand, I should enjoy myself as a new wife and relax this November, my honeymoon/birthday/Thanksgiving month. In years past, I’ve gotten a little, um, touchy when the deadline approaches. I know, my accent through the computer makes cantankerous sound like touchy.

But then again, I already have an idea!

But then there are the detractors of NaNo, and sometimes I’m really influenced by the random commentators in the intertubes.

But it’s time to write! And November makes me ridiculously productive!

What’s a girl to do? Listen to music, apparently. Or, ride my bike.

UPDATE: I write these things a few days in advance and just this morning (October 16th), I asked Adam what I should do about NaNo and he FULLY INTENDS ON PARTICIPATING. “What else are we gonna do?” I paraphrase for him.

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

TL:DR version: If you like actual sci-fi, you’re a woman, or you dislike meta books, avoid this.

I was super excited to read this book. The back promised me time travel and Dracula and genre-bending madness!

Well, two out of three were wrong. And two outta three…ain’t…bad?

I blame my dislike of this book on three reasons:

1.) Marketing

It was marketed to make it more exciting. So is everything else. I understand this. What I don’t understand, however, is how a nice novel like The Map of Time ends up with a completely misleading and trashy false blurb in a place like the back of the book. I’ve come to expect this from movie trailers, and I always take the back of a book with a grain of salt, but if they had just marketed it as it was: a Victorian thriller true to the time in both style and plot, I would have enjoyed it so much more. But instead they made it seem steeped in science fiction and fantasy and that doesn’t really come into play for more than two thirds of the novel.

But, because they wanted to add some spice, they lost me. I kept on expecting things to jump out at me and wave their wordy fingers and say, “Ooh, look, I’m Dracula popping into a book otherwise about H. G. Wells and look how much I bend genres!” like the wonderful Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels. Instead, I got a bogged down, “Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m Bram Stoker, the dude who wrote Dracula . I barely fit into this novel at all. All I can bend are my fingers. To type things. Because I’m Mr. Stoker. NOT MY FICTIONAL CHARACTER WHICH DOESN’T EVEN MAKE AN APPEARANCE AND WAS ONLY TALKED ABOUT ON THE BACK OF THE NOVEL TO SPECIFICALLY INTEREST MELISSA.”

Because I like vampires, okay?

It was like expecting to drink some water and getting a mouthful of vodka instead. They’re as different as an elephant and an elephant seal, m’kay?

And I’m totally fine with the Victorianess of it and the lengthy wordiness of it and even the unreliable narrator-y-ness of it too. I love those things. I write those things. But don’t tell me it’s going to be something completely different — DOCTOR WHO MIXED WITH DICKENS is what the back basically said to me — because then I won’t like those things. Those things will just piss me off. Give me the truth. The truth sets everyone free. Just not Tom Cruise in real life A Few Good Men.

2.) Feminist hackles.

Look. I understand that most novels are written by dudes and for dudes — wait, what? That’s comic books? The majority of readers are women? Well, THEN YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES.

The only main lady character (not that I need all of my characters to be ladies) tells me how non-matronly she is. How she doesn’t want to get married and have children solely because that is what she is supposed to do and that she feels as confined and restricted as the very corset wrapped around her body (ooh, symbolism!). Cool! I like this! Defying stereotypes and being more than just what others expect of her. I respect this!

But oh, a man from the future! Wow! She hasn’t even seen his face and she falls in love with him. Because he must — he simply must! — be different than the cads around her. And *spoiler alert* HE MANIPULATES HER INTO SLEEPING WITH HIM. And, another alert, he continues to manipulate her because otherwise, she will commit suicide because of his brutish actions.

I just…I can’t…

NO ONE ACTS LIKE THIS. Yes, it’s a Victorian setting, and I have a different viewpoint about women and their roles in society than say, H. G. Wells and Stoker do, but that doesn’t mean that Palma has to continue this legacy either. I’ve read plenty of Victorian novels involving women and NONE OF THEM ACT LIKE THIS EITHER. Even Lucy in Dracula is stronger than her husband in many ways and when she stops getting his letters (because he’s skrawnking some vampire chicks and stuff) she doesn’t just off herself because she can’t survive without a man. This is unrealistic and insulting.

I don’t demand that things appeal to my sense of how women should act. There is no right way to portray women because all women are different. JUST DO NOT ACTIVELY OFFEND ME AND WE’LL BE OKAY.

The idea that a woman would commit suicide simply because someone she’s barely met doesn’t reply to her letters is outlandish at best and rather offensive to those with any sense of self-respect. It’s not just plot holes and bad (or lack of) editing at this point, it’s just plain lazy writing. A lack of talent in the field of character development is no excuse for a poorly conceived and executed second half and cannot be made up for by Palma’s otherwise intricate and well-designed plots and graceful way with words. Write your women the same way you do your men — with a well-rounded psyches, with realistic expectations and desires, with a sense of independence that doesn’t rely upon a man — and leave your stereotypes at the door.

3.) Meta-ness.

I enjoy a bit of the ol’ genre-savviness meself. I really do. But there is a point when it becomes too much.

The next paragraph will spoil the ending, so don’t read it if you want to keep the surprise, but do know that the ending is so self-referential, I almost stopped to check if it was written by the same guys who write Supernatural.

H.G. Wells gets a letter from his future self saying that if he gives his unpublished manuscript of The Invisible Man to a time-traveler who wants purportedly to help him, the (actually) evil time-traveler will attempt to kill him and the stress of almost being killed will reveal his previously unknown powers of mind time travel. (The only way people can ACTUALLY time travel in the novel is with their minds, a la The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, that’s not the only thing that is lifted directly from the Niffenegger [spell that five times fast] novel, but that’s another quip for later.) The letter goes on to explain that he has a choice: go through events and become the very man writing him that letter (meaning he will disappear from history only after his second novel) or change history and make things different (or what we known to be true in this timeline, i.e. he goes on to write many more novels like The War of the Worlds and so forth.)

Blah, blah, blah, he chooses to make his own path, as scary and unknown it is and bam! H.G. Wells is saved and history as we known it is kept sacrosanct and the world is all right. But, if he could write a novel about his experiences, it would be a lot like a novel that I just read and it would start the same way that the very one I was reading would and oh, my, fracking God, are you serious? You are referencing the very novel you are writing!

That’s not clever, that’s egoism. And unacceptable. Any suspension of disbelief on my part was then puked upon and put back onto a shelf never to be read again and kind of to be looked at in pity as a couple of dollars wasted. Which no book should ever make me feel like I wasted money on it, and yet, the previous good yet feminist-hackle-raising 600 pages almost doesn’t make up for the last mind bogglingly vainglorious two.

Three stars out of five. Infuriating, but I couldn’t help but sense that with a better editor (and a real-life knowledge about women and how they act) it could have been spectacular.

The Jade Skull

Speaking of my car, Sir Blimey, not only is he the inspiration for a great many character quirks, but he has even inspired my own superhero comic. Prepare yourself for:

THE GREEN SKULL!

What, I can’t use that? That’s already a Captain America villain?

Yeah, but he’s kind of a crossover special. Surely no one will mind if I use it?

They will? But…but*…Cap can’t have a monopoly on all colored skull villains, can he?

Fine. Fine! Prepare yourself for:

THE GREEN JADE SKULL!

I switched out the gear shifter in my Jeep for a green skull and then got to thinking that my car had an alter ego and went out and became a vigilante at night, all Christine style. Then, BAM. Inspiration.

Story goes that a witch lady who used to possess people a while ago got tricked into possessing a green jade skull figurine and couldn’t get out until she redeemed herself by doing deeds of good. She takes this to mean kill evil doers and proceeds to possess whatever the green jade skull is attached to. Sometimes it’s a necklace, sometimes it’s a 1986 Jeep Wrangler YJ.

Backstory!**

The Green Jade Skull, back in the 70s, was attached to a walking cane of one Sir Reginald Blahblahblah (official surname in the delicate planning process) and she took care of business. This, of course, attracted the notice of the local law enforcement, who couldn’t find a link between all of the victims, other than the fact that their bodies were charred, LEAVING ONLY THEIR SKULLS, WHICH HAVE BEEN TURNED THE COLOR GREEN JADE.

Sir Reginald Blahblahblah dies and his beloved walking cane is put into a safe with the rest of his items until…

Actual story!

…it’s sold in an estate sale to one, LUCY SWEETFACE. (All I know about her is that she’s just gotten out of a divorce and is sweet. Kind of like Diane Wiest’s character in the greatest movie known to mankind, The Lost Boys.)

She takes the green jade skull off of the walking cane and puts it on her 1986 Jeep Wrangler YJ because it looks cool and the Green Jade Skull comes back to life to accomplish her mission of justice! (Or maybe vengeance!)

Lucy has no idea that her car is going out at night and killing people, but again, the local law enforcement starts a-sniffing’. Enter one SGT. STEWART. (Only so named because I think of the Green Lantern Jon Stewart when picturing my cop character.) He links Lucy to the crimes and is about to arrest her, but feels there’s something missing.

What we don’t know — until we do know — is that Stewart had a run-in with the paranormal when he was a child! Oooh. Which makes him want to understand that world, which brings him to the case files of the 70s and to the shocking conclusion that it’s not a WHO, but, rather, a WHAT that has been cleaning the streets of San Francisco for him!

I mean, it’s still kinda in it’s early stages, and I really need someone to draw because my skills stopped progressing somewhere around age six, but the story is there, waiting.

*…but WE used to use soap!

**My friends and I play the Settlers of Catan card game and there’s a destiny card that gets flipped over when certain actions happen. It’s a house rule that when you flip the destiny card, you whisper the word, “dessssssstiny,” in a suitable, movie-trailer voice, way.